Father of DC Widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley, Tom Clark, swings his grandson Tommy around room
Family & Friends

Grandpa Tom’s Exercise Routine

Every morning I get up and run before the sun comes up. Sometimes, it seems that no one else in the world is awake.

No one, except my dad. He’s always up before I make it out of bed. I can hear him in his room, moving around and sometimes listening to music. I know what he’s doing in there, as it’s what he’s done every morning for 22 years.

He’s exercising.

I’ve always thought little of his exercise routine, but as I mentioned it to more and more people here in DC, I started to realize how unique it actually is. So the other day I decided to interview him about his routine. I sat down at the kitchen counter, pen in hand and turned to him. “Tell me in order about your exercises you do in the morning, Dad.”

“Okay,” he said. “First, I do one thousand crunches.”

“What?” I said.

“One thousand crunches,” he said again. Obviously, I’d heard him, I was just surprised a bit at the number. I wrote it down.

“Well,” he continued, “there were a few days when I was on call when I couldn’t those crunches, or really any of my exercises,” he admitted. “But almost every day, I do my routine. Crunches are good for your back.”

I’m gonna stop right there. My dad is 72 years old. And almost every day since he was 50, he’s done one thousand crunches every morning.

I don’t know that I realized before this conversation that it was ONE THOUSAND crunches. That’s 1000. Not 100.

That’s just the beginning.

“Then I do ten minutes of leg lifts and stretching,” he continued. “Those strengthen the rectus muscles and the lumbar paraspinous muscles, just like the crunches. It also helps your quadraceps.”

He kept going, but as usual when my dad (or my sister) starts talking about medical terms, I tuned out. Still, I appreciated a little bit that he takes such a scientific approach to his daily exercises.

“Okay, what’s after that?” I asked.

“Then I do a thousand back arches,” he said. “And then I do push-ups. I used to do a hundred push-ups, but then I found out I was cheating. I needed to touch my nose to the ground. So now I just do 50.”

“That’s pretty wimpy dad,” I said, laughing. “Just 50 pushups!”

He laughed with me, but shrugged his shoulders too.

“Okay,” I said, “is that the end?”

“No,” he said. “Then, I balance on each leg for a minute. It’s called something in yoga, but I don’t know what. My brother told me about it.” I watched him demonstrate it in the kitchen and silently wondered if I would be able to balance that long. I knew I wouldn’t be able to to the push-ups.

“Why do you do this balance thing?” I asked.

“Because people break their hips when they are old because they have poor balance,” he said. “Plus, I need to do all this so that however old I live, I can still play golf.”

Never mind that when he’s with us during the school year, he only plays a couple of times.

“I also walk every day,” he said. “Usually five miles. There are days when I walk more, but I do at least five miles. I walk the kids to school and then I go to the grocery store. When I come home I sometimes have a couple of gallons of milk so that helps build my arm muscles.”

“Wow, dad, that’s a glass-half-full viewpoint there,” I said.

“Well, it’s true!” he said.

I teased him a bit more about his routine, and then I put my notes away. Later, when I went to write this up, I thought about the fortitude it must take to wake up in the dark every morning for decades and engage in an exercise routing that starts with a thousand crunches.

I guess it comes from the same strength that it takes to survive the death of a spouse. The same strength that it takes to raise two teenage girls alone, help them plan their weddings and make sure they grow into reasonably happy adults. The same strength that it takes to leave your retirement behind to help raise three more little kids, one of whom is still in diapers when you make that decision.

Actually, in comparison to a lot of the other things my dad has done, this exercise routine is probably the thing that takes the least amount of fortitude.

I guess that’s why he keeps doing it. That, or maybe because it means that although he’s in his eighth decade of life, he can still pick up Tommy and swing him around the living room.

I think it’s that – more than the improved golf swing – that keeps him at his daily exercise routine.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Henry

    Your Dad certainly is remarkable. But I don’t think it was that sort of strength and fortitude that enabled him to raise you and your sister and led him to help raise your kids. As you have described so many times, it is love, and that’s at least as impressive as his workout routine.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, that’s true, of course. And love like that is definitely as impressive as his workout routine.

  • Melissa

    In yoga, standing on one leg (with the foot of the other leg usually placed against the standing leg’s knee) is called Tree Pose. In some classes, they suggest you close your eyes to add to the balancing, but I never was able to do that for very long!

    Your dad and I are the same age and I can attest to the benefits of daily exercise which consists, for me, of hour long Zumba classes three times a week and two miles on the elliptical machine at the gym on the other days. And now that the weather is a tiny bit cooler here in Central Texas (not much, but some) instead of the elliptical I do a brisk 40 minute walk around town in the evening. If I fail to do any of this, I really notice it both mentally and physically. As they say “Use it or lose it.” 🙂

    • Marjorie

      Yes! A friend of mine (who is in his 40s) likes to say, “you don’t stop exercising because you get old, you get old because you stop exercising!” My dad is a pretty extreme example but it’s so true. I’ll tell him about tree pose!

  • Karen Bohanan

    Thank you Marjorie for the story about your dad. When you mentioned his laugh it made me laugh. I still hear his laughter in my mind and remember all those years sitting in my office when I would hear Tom laugh. I would smile and sometimes laugh quietly to myself… Best laugh ever!

  • Merlene West

    Sweet Marjorie Claire Harrison Clark Brinley, I was your father’s office manager for the first 6 years of his practice. Let me say first that I am so very sorry about the death of your husband. I can only imagine your pain. Just a thought about your Dad and the amazing man he is. I’m sure that strength is attributed to more than one thing (as you already named several). I believe it’s hereditary. The example his mother was to he and his siblings had to be in his genes as well as he saw it modeled.

    Now, I just have to say I think you are an amazing young woman in your own right. The strength you are modeling for your children is admirable. While I’m sure it’s healing for you to share your journey so openly and honestly….your blog is helping others.

    Last month my 31 yr old granddaughter last her husband one day shy of their 8 month anniversary. I told her about your blog. So thank you so much for what you are doing. Plz tell your father I said hi.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I will certainly tell my dad. I’m so sorry to hear about your granddaughter – she will be in my thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!